Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Blast from the Past: Pummel

Title: Pummel (Amazon,, AllMusic, Wikipedia)
Artist: ALL (AllMusic, Wikipedia)

Like many other long running punk bands in the mid-90s, pop punk legends ALL were signed to a major label, Interscope Records, and released their one and only record for the label, Pummel, in 1995.

When Pummel was released, I was still relatively new to the ALL part of this band. I’d known the Descendents for a while but it wasn’t until I was a freshman at OU that a friend in a class told me that ALL was coming to town—which I totally regret missing that show—and that they were the Descendents. Shortly after that I procured a copy of Breaking Things, the band’s current release at the time, and was completely blown away. So when I was in a record store in 1995 and saw a new ALL cassette on the shelf I was totally stoked and picked up it right then and there.

Since that time I’ve had this love-hate relationship with the album. On the one hand Pummel has some truly classic songs on it (“Miranda,” “Long Distance,” “Breakin’ Up,” and “Million Bucks” for example) the record as a whole, when listened to start-to-finish just doesn’t flow very well. Listening to Pummel is almost like driving on a bumpy road that has some very nice smooth areas but is overall still bumpy.

Pummel had two major problems as I see it. First it was the follow up to the brilliant Breaking Things. When a band or artist releases an incredibly great album, the follow up has some big shoes to fill and often just doesn’t hold up in comparison (obviously this isn’t always the case but it fits here and on more than a few occasions with bands like U2 and R.E.M. who have released truly classic records only to follow them up with mediocre albums). If Pummel had been an album consisting entirely of songs along the caliber of “Miranda” or “Long Distance” then it would have been heralded as a classic, but it didn’t, which brings us to the album's second major problem: the songs that didn’t work. Rarely is there an album that is complete with great songs top to bottom but often the stinkers are few enough in number to keep from ruining the entire record. Sadly that is not the case with Pummel. Of the 15 songs on the record I would count five as classics (“Million Bucks,” “Miranda,” “Long Distance,” “Button In,” and “Breakin’ Up”), three as pretty good (“Self-Righteous,” “Not Easy,” and “Getting’ There”), five as okay (“Stalker,” “This World,” “On Foot,” “Broken,” and “Black Sky”), and two as absolutely horrible (“Uncle Critic” and “Hetero”). It is those last two on top of the fact that the okay songs are just that, that make this record so weak in my humble opinion. I’ve heard theories that the song “Hetero” is meant as ironic (kind of like Minor Threat’s “Guilty of Being White”) but it is so hateful in its tenor and delivery that I have a hard time seeing the irony in it. Granted at the time that this song was written, drummer and band leader Bill Stevenson was a pretty angry guy (I base this assessment on various different interviews that I have read at the time and in years since the song was written) and I think that this song and “Uncle Critic” were him venting his frustrations. What also bothers me about those two songs is that if someone’s only exposure to this band was this record, then the listener would probably leave with a not-so-flattering opinion of the band and their views on homosexuals. Since I am a connoisseur of everything ALLular I know that these guys aren’t homophobes or hate mongers of any kind. In fact I think that they are quite the opposite, but that’s not the impression one gets from these songs.

Just to make sure that my opinion of Pummel wasn’t misguided, I listened to the album again start-to-finish yesterday for the first time in a long time and still went away feeling like I’d just gone on an overall bumpy road trip with a few very wonderfully smooth spots along the way.
Finally, I think the best thing to come from Pummel and ALL’s short-lived venture into major label-land was that they were able to build their recording studio, The Blasting Room, which has served as their home and the place that many classic record have been produced. The other great thing about this album was that I got to see ALL and meet Bill Stevenson and Stephen Egerton when they played OKC on the Pummel tour (the first thing that Bill said to me was “Do you know where I can get some milk for my coffee?”…it was awesome!). The show truly knocked my socks off and was pretty much a religious experience. And even though this is not one of my favorite ALL records, if/when it gets reissued (which they have been promising for years now) I will be all over that action. What can I say…I’m a diehard fan.


David B. said...

I, too, am obsessively aware of everything ALL has released and Pummel is also my least favorite of their albums. It has grown on me some over several years of owning it but has never, and probably will never, stand up with the rest of them. I typically put ALL records into two categories: 1) Absolutely brilliant, and 2) Pummel. I've often wondered if the major label release of their worst album is not coincidental. A couple of interesting things I've noted, however, is that Pummel's lyrics are more profane than most or all of the other releases and many of the songs aren't as catchy. I would expect these categories to be opposite given the major label release as I would think the company's goal would be to alienate the least amount of people as possible. Pummel is a bit of a headscratcher. Regardless, ALL is the best rock band in existence.

Dave said...

Hey David, thanks for stopping by.  I'd never thought about the language issue but you're right, there are more bad words on Pummel than other ALL records (I'm not sure how it compares to the Descendents catalog on the bad word scale though).  Pummel still has it's moments and overall I tend to prefer it to Allroy Saves, Enjoy!, and New Girl, Old Story.  I did a post ranking all of the ALL / Descendents records in order of personal preference a while back.  You can read it here

Harrison said...

I've never understood why people can't see what the song Hetero is really saying. Yes, the words are awful and disturbing. But the purpose is to make a point of how ridiculous that point of view is. The last line of the song makes it obvious: "Straight, normal hetero guy....Red neck ass bastard from hell."